10/21/2004 12:00AM

For Sur La Tete, relaxation is key


EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - Trainer Neil Morris's primary job before Saturday's Grade 1, $175,000 Breeders' Cup Steeplechase will be keeping Sur La Tete calm.

A promising newcomer, Sur La Tete recently graduated from the novice ranks and beat veteran jumpers by 11 1/2 lengths in the Grade 2 Metcalfe Memorial in late September at Monmouth Park.

"We're going to have Sur La Tete run his race and see if he's good enough," said Morris. "It seems good enough against the horses we've met so far. He's earned the right to be there."

How well he runs will depend in large part on how the nervous horse takes to the surroundings at the Far Hills Races.

"He's quite complicated, mentally," said Morris. "If I can get him there mentally, I hope he'll give a good account."

Morris found a farm for Sur La Tete near Far Hills to minimize the race-day shipping. A smooth arrival can be a challenge, with more than 40,000 spectators expected for the annual one-day meet.

"We have to get him there pretty early because of the traffic, which is horrendous trying to get in," said Morris. "Horses have to be there early, otherwise we get stuck on the road. My horse doesn't ship well, so that's why I have him 10 minutes away from the racecourse."

Another McCarron family rider

Matt McCarron knew at an early age that he would not be following in the family tradition as a Thoroughbred jockey.

McCarron's father, Greg, was a prominent rider for many years in the Mid-Atlantic region, and uncle Chris is in the Hall of Fame.

While Matt McCarron had the competitive spirit, his body did not cooperate.

"Being a flat jockey was never a consideration," said McCarron. "It was pretty evident when I was 14 or 15 that I would be too big."

McCarron found an outlet in steeplechasing.

"A good friend of mine introduced me to steeplechase racing back in 1991," said McCarron. "Things kind of snowballed from there."

Trainer Bill Meister was instrumental in schooling McCarron in a sport he knew nothing about.

McCarron, 33, is enjoying one of his finest seasons. He is the leading jump rider this year, with 20 wins, and has the mount on Hirapour in Saturday's Breeders' Cup Steeplechase.

"It's just been a very fortunate year for me," said McCarron. "I just sort of happened to be in the right places at the right time. Things kind of fell into my lap, and I've gotten a chance to ride a lot of very special horses this year."

Still, he would have loved to follow his father and uncle onto the Thoroughbred tracks.

"I wish I could have ridden on the flat," said McCarron. "It would have been something else to experience and do on a full-time basis as opposed to riding on weekends."